Industry losing sparkles

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 March, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 March, 1995, 12:00am

DIAMONDS are supposed to be a girl's best friend . . . but in Hong Kong they are attracting a growing number of thieves, with dealers and collectors falling prey to a spate of robberies.

Last week a dealer based in Central lost $500,000 in diamonds when a briefcase containing the gems was stolen after he left them in a lift.

This was not an isolated incident. Three weeks ago, burglars broke into the luxury home of an Indonesian businessman at Black's Link, near Wong Nai Chung Gap, and stole gems worth thousands of dollars during a $3.8 million raid, which also netted the gang antiques and cash.

In January, thieves used a car-jack to smash their way into the strongroom of the Chow Po Hong Jewellery shop in Nathan Road, Mongkok, and snatched $10 million in diamonds.

A few weeks earlier, two gemstone salesmen were robbed of diamonds worth $195,000 by two men armed with a pistol in a building in Nathan Road.

The police have had some success in dealing with this problem. Last week gem merchant Chan Wai-yinm, 43, appeared in court for sentencing after admitting that he had stolen $250,000 in gems from his employer.

But the rise in diamond robberies is worrying the industry.

'There is a good chance an organised crime ring is operating in Hong Kong because in the past six months there has been a spate of these thefts,' a spokesman for the Diamond Importers' Association said.

'Diamonds are very portable and can therefore be easily smuggled out of the country without identification.' The spokesman said there was a ready market for stolen gems, particularly in Japan and America.

'These places are the obvious targets for stolen diamonds. Other countries deal in diamonds but on a smaller scale so it is very difficult to detect exactly where these stolen diamonds are going.

'Hong Kong is the third biggest diamond trading place in the world - after Japan and the US - so there is a chance the diamonds are still here.

'Diamond merchants have spent large amounts on security to protect their valuables. But, in the case of the robbery in Central, these things don't always go according to plan.' For the Jewish-American family at the centre of the robbery, it was the second time in six months they were the victims. They had a diamond worth $2.3 million stolen from their company stand at an exhibition in September.

The Zions, who operate Dehres International, said last week's raid occurred after they were followed from their stand at the Hong Kong International Jewellery Show.

Mrs Zion, who refused to give her full name, said two men followed them from the Exhibition and Convention Centre in Wan Chai into a lift in St George's building, where their office is based.

'One came into the lift with us and another went into a different lift,' she said.

Mrs Zion said her husband pressed the lift for the 20th floor while the other man pushed in between the family and another staff member and pressed the button for the 21st floor.

'We thought it was all very strange, but we didn't want to panic anyone. He kept looking at us and we were praying the lift would hurry up and get to our floor.

'My husband had two briefcases under his arms and one on the floor.' The family stepped out of the lift when it stopped at their floor only to find Mr Zion had left the briefcase on the floor of the lift.

'We saw the lift go up to the 21st floor and another man who was with us ran up the stairs and found the lift had stopped there but the briefcase was gone,' she added.

Police believe the thieves walked out the main entrance with the briefcase, which contained $4.5 million worth of diamonds.

A source at Waterfront police station said they were considering the possibility that the family was a target of organised crime.

'We are looking at several lines of enquiry in our investigation and we have not ruled out the chance that the family was followed from the exhibition as part of a group attack.' Mr Zion, who also refused to give his full name, said security was to be tightened-up at St George's Building.

'I am more interested in reviewing security than trying to find the man who stole the diamonds. I'll leave that up to the police,' he said.

'A security firm has been called in to assess how two men could walk out the front door with a briefcase without anyone noticing them.'